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Decades In The Making: Global Ban On Exporting Hazardous Waste To Developing Countries Becomes A Law

On December 5, 2019, the Basel Ban Amendment, which bans the export of hazardous waste from OCED (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries to the rest of the world, became a law. 

The Basel Ban Amendment was ratified (approved) by 98 countries, but the United States is not one of them. 

This law has been a long time coming. The Basel Convention was created by the United Nations in 1989 after a series of toxic waste disasters, to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of waste, particularly in vulnerable developing countries.

When the Basel Convention was first introduced, most participants in the convention sought to prohibit exporting hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries. However, the ban was met with opposition from a number of countries back then, including the United States, Australia, Germany, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, as well as and electronic and shipping industry lobbyists. Although the Basel Convention did not achieve an outright ban initially, the treaty required countries to obtain consent from the receiving country before exporting hazardous waste. 

Fast forward to 2019, the Basel Ban Amendment has now become a law after decades in the making. However, it only applies to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), electronic wastes, obsolete ships, flammable liquids, and toxic heavy metals. This means other waste such as plastic, scrap metal, glass, and paper will continue to be exported to developing countries.

The U.S. produces the most waste per-capita but still fought the Basel Convention (receiving consent from countries before exporting hazardous waste) and has actively opposed the Ban Amendment (the law banning the export of hazardous waste).

“There can be no excuse for any country to use poorer countries as convenient dumping grounds for their waste, and it is especially ugly to do this in the name of recycling or the circular economy,” said Jim Puckett, the Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. “With the Ban Amendment now an international law, we hope and urge that all countries that have failed to ratify it will reconsider what it means to be global leaders in the age of globalization.”

While the Ban Amendment is a step in the right direction, developed countries continue to jeopardize human health and the environment while exporting waste that is not controlled by the Ban Amendment to developing countries that often lack proper infrastructure and regulations.

What can you do to make a difference? 

  • Find out how your community disposes of recycling and hazardous waste. 
  • Avoid single-use containers and packaging. 
  • When you need to purchase something, purchase from companies that have a take back program to ensure that the materials will be properly disposed of at the end of their lifecycle. 


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